A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent's death lead James Bond to uncover an international jewel-smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used to disguise a nuclear attack on N.A.T.O. forces.
James Bond 007 is on the search for a Russian decoding machine, known as Lektor. Bond needs to find this machine, before the evil SPECTRE organization discovers it first. Whilst being romantically linked with Russian girl, Tatiana Romanova, Bond sneaks his way around Istanbul, whilst each SPECTRE agent tries to pick him off, including the over powering Donald 'Red' Grant and ex-KGB agent Rosa Klebb who knows all the tricks in the books and even possesses an incredible poison tipped shoe! Written by
'From Russia With Love' is the second and last of the Bond films to be made without a rigid formula. With 'Goldfinger', the expected elements of the later films would all accrue in a single film, setting a template the series would struggle to escape from (and, for the most part, would not bother trying to). So, like 'Dr. No', there's only a single sex interest (let's not use the term 'love' too lightly), rather than the good-girl-survives, bad/tragic-girl-dies dichotomy that would later structure all the films (bar OHMSS and, interestingly, the Dalton films), and unlike 'Dr. No', the villainous plot is rather small beer and resolutely real-world - to steal a code machine and humiliate the British Intelligence community in the process. There's also no bombastic theme song, although Matt Monro provides an easy-listening version of the theme tune at the end (it's not half bad, actually, although Shirley Bassey's brassy 'Goldfinger' makes it seem antediluvian in comparison).
Effectively, this means that it's the last Bond film in which the makers were trying to make a film, not a Bond film. It didn't matter if the motifs were all there or not, it only mattered if it was a good film. Unsurprisingly, it has a good claim to being the best film of the series, and it's certainly the least self-conscious (compare with 'Thunderball', an artificial attempt to replicate 'Goldfinger' but making everything bigger).
So, Daniela Bianchi isn't really just the latest 'Bond Girl', but the character at the heart of this thriller - she pretty much is the story. Ursula Andress might have had an iconic entrance in 'Dr. No', but she was so much window-dressing, irrelevant to the plot, arriving late and with almost no agency in the events that unfold around her. By contrast, the crucial pivot of 'From Russia With Love' is whether Bianchi's Tanya will side with Bond or SMERSH - the age old 'love or duty' dilemma.
The film also takes time with detours that have little to do with the main plot - as in the sequence at the gypsy camp. There is a real feeling of a functioning world around Bond's escapades, rather than just colourful 'exotic' backdrops.
There also isn't an undue emphasis on big action set pieces - Bond's encounter with a helicopter (very 'North by Northwest' - in fact Hitchcock's influence is detectable throughout this film, from the Cathedral sequence, to the cool Blondeness of Bianchi, to the train setting of the second half) and the climactic speedboat chase are well-executed, but miniature next to those of later films. Tellingly, the best remembered action sequence is the fight between Connery and Robert Shaw on the train, and the series would never better this intimate, brutal struggle.
Shaw is by far the best of the series' bull-necked heavies - he's intelligent and charismatic as well as forceful, almost a Bond-equivalent. Lotte Lenya and Pedro Armendariz are both excellent in their supporting turns, reminders of a time when the series actually featured fully developed supporting characters, and Bianchi is good - she may lack the overt sex appeal of Andress, but she's a better actress, playing innocent without being either stupid or dull. Connery really grows into the role here, a long way from the pork-pie hatted clod he was in the first film but still untamed and prickly enough to be an exciting screen presence. It was a long slow decline from here to the tubby jobsworth of 'Diamonds Are Forever'.
The early Bond films often escape the critical gaze, and when they are subjected to it, it is usually through rose-tinted spectacles. 'Dr. No' is dull and poorly acted, 'Goldfinger' fun but rather shapeless, and 'Thunderball' just tries too hard altogether. 'From Russia With Love' is a polished little gem, a cold-war thriller done with great style, and a minor masterpiece, irrespective of the series around it.
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